The Israeli electro-rock-pop band Terry Poison doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Zionism. They belong more in the European electronic music underground. They sing in English and French about boys and partying. Their wardrobe consists of glittery, metallic bodysuits that outlandish pop sensation Lady Gaga would envy. They don’t consider Diaspora Jews who love Israel as their natural market. (Check out the Journal’s upcoming feature on the band.)
But the band’s lead singer and founder, Louise Kahn, left her homeland of Norway to become a part of the Jewish experiment in the Holy Land and to contribute her own sense of fashion, musical creativity, and partying to the Jewish state. Now her dreams are coming true, with a sound that is rocking Israel’s radio waves, regular gigs in Europe, and a bid at the best new Israeli act at the MTV Europe Music Awards being held in Berlin this November.
“Israel was a legitimate place for me because my parents are Zionists,” she told the Journal during a sound check at the Hollywood Playhouse, where they performed on October 15 as part of the Israeli corner of L.A. Fashion Week. Born in Trondheim, a town she now describes as a Jewish museum, she moved to Oslo with her family at age 10, then left for Israel’s metropolis at age 19.
“I found Tel Aviv really exciting,” said Kahn as she prepared her platinum blonde hair extensions that make her look more Norwegian. She admits her natural color is light brown and that her nose is not small enough to be bond-fide Scandinavian. “This was in 2000, right before the intifada. Norway has always been a very homogeneous society.”
She grew-up a good Jewish girl, with Zionist parents having sent her to the Bnei Akiva Zionist youth movement as a child.
“If you’re a minority like me—even if my family is three generation Norwegian—I didn’t really feel like I belonged. When I came to Tel Aviv, it was very freeing to be a part of the majority and leave this ‘Jewish business’ behind.”
She didn’t know any Hebrew when she landed, and she cheated on the Hebrew placement exam to get admitted into Israel’s prestigious art academy in Jerusalem, Bezalel, where Terry Poison was born. “I stopped playing with another band and started writing electronic music on the keyboard, sampler—low tech. A girlfriend and I started playing around Tel Aviv like crazy.”
Haifa native Idan “Bruno” Grift caught wind of the girls at their gigs, and upgraded the band to four girls (plus himself and a drummer) and worked in the studio with them to perfect their sound. Israeli label Phonokol Records put out their debut album.
“He has an amazing studio,” Kahn said of Grife. “He’s a super serious guy. Without him it would be a joke.”
In addition to performing, Kahn teaches a class on branding for musicians at Muzik, a music school in Tel Aviv specializing in electronic music production. She recognized the power of branding in helping musicians secure an audience. In 2006 Terry Poison teamed up with local designers, stylists and photographers to launch on myspace with photographs of the girls in carefully staged outfits and settings.
“We did the photo shoot and video and did things ourselves on myspace. We created our website. After two months on myspace, we were invited all over Europe—for money. We started something.”
Now that the band has penetrated the Israeli mainstream with two radio hits, Kahn, like many artists in Israel, has her sights set on Europe and the US. The band has been making significant headway. It sold a track to Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, and they perform regularly in Europe. In May they opened for Depeche Mode in Israel.
“I’ve been living in Israel for ten years, but I’m really dying to get out of here,” she said as the interview progressed to the café adjacent to the Playhouse. “I love my life there, but as artists you hit the wall very fast. We have a problem with how far we can go with our music there. If you have music in English and French you can be part of the global music scene, and Israel’s an island.”
The band has been invited several times to Norway, with television appearances there. Kahn feels more at home there as the singer of a popular electro-rock pop band than as a Jew.
“Every time they interview me in the paper they have to write I’m a Jew. It’s the way they put things into words that’s very dangerous,” she said, acknowledging Norway’s poor pro-Israel track record.
Her two siblings are among the some 1200 Jews living in Norway. Her father is a medical engineer and her mother is a teacher at a nursing school. Her mother doesn’t advertise her Jewishness to her students to avoid getting into a fight about Israel.
“They see things very black and white and I think it has to do with information people have,” she said. “I think if you’ve been a country that’s been a part of world history—America or Israel, for instance—your worldview becomes more grey. As for their attitude to Israel, you can read some really not fun things in Norwegian newspapers. My parents aren’t happy about being Jewish there.”
She glanced out the window towards Hollywood Boulevard. “It’s not like America. It’s something you hide.”